Awards pile up for local female guard member

by Nathan Warner
Contributing writer

Zimmerman High School graduate Rachel Anderson has achieved great things since leaving her hometown and joining the National Guard.  For starters, she earned her military occupational specialty (MOS) as a combat medic (medical specialist) in June 2011 at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.

Anderson says she didn’t expect to join the Army after high school.  “I met Army recruiters at a college orientation,” she said, “and immediately saw how awesome the Army medical program was.”  She says she always wanted to end up in a medical field and wanted to make a difference somehow.  “The Army is where they make the most medical advances,” she says.  “Their medical training is top-notch and I wanted to be a part of that tradition of excellence.”  She added that EMT classes that take four to six months in the civilian programs are learned in only five weeks of intense training in the Army.  “It’s tough, but it’s very rewarding,” she said.

Rachel Anderson is the first woman to have competed in the Minnesota Soldier of the Year contest in several years.

Anderson was selected out of 300 classmates for the Soldier of the Cycle Award during  Medic training last year and earned the title of Distinguished Honor Graduate as well.  In February of this year, she was nominated for the Soldier of the Year Award by her Brigade (347th regional support group).  Achieving this honor sent her on to the Minnesota National Guard Soldier of the Year competition in April.  Anderson was the only woman in the last four to five years to go on to the Minnesota Soldier of the Year competition.  “They honestly couldn’t remember when the last time was that a girl had made it that far,” she laughed, “so that was pretty encouraging.”  The competition is known for very long days and challenging events, including demonstrating physical fitness, weapons qualification, combatives, and a 12-mile ruck march that ended up being in the rain this year.  While Anderson didn’t win at state, she was in the top five out of roughly 11,000 Army National Guard soldiers in Minnesota.

Zimmerman native Rachel Anderson earned her military occupational specialty as a combat medic in 2011 and is now attending North Dakota State University.

Anderson is currently studying microbiology at North Dakota State University with a 4.0 GPA and hopes to go to graduate school in Texas in 2013 to be a physician’s assistant (PA).  She says the physician’s assistant career attracted her because they spend more time with patients than doctors do and that is where she wants to spend her time.  “I hope to be a PA in a hospital, preferably in an inner city somewhere,” she says, “while also being a PA in the National Guard, so I can do the same thing in the army if I get called up.”

She says many people think the Army stands for violence and killing people, but conflict is only a small part of what the military actually does in her experience.  “The U.S. military rebuilds countries, brings them medicine and education, and supports and lifts up people brought down by their own conflicts,” she said.

Despite the fact that Anderson spent much of her life outside of Minnesota, having lived in Texas, Iowa, Singapore, and Italy, she says Zimmerman will always be home for her.  “We moved there when I was 14 and it’s where I grew the most,” she says.  “My family is there, and everyone is always so nice in Zimmerman.”

Lt. Colonel Lehning congratulated Anderson last year with the Army Achievement Medal for earning the title of Distinguished Honor Graduate.

What motivates her to keep going?  “Well, to understand that, you’d have to understand that I’m a Christian,” she says, “and I believe that in everything we do we should strive to give God glory and do our best for him.  I wouldn’t have come this far without him and I’m doing all this because life is short and I want to live to glorify Christ in whatever he calls me to do.”  She added that her parents are huge role models for her.

“My mother is a dedicated nurse and my dad has always given generously to everyone,” she said.  There is no military tradition in her family and she is the first to enter the enlisted ranks, but her younger brother, Aaron, will be following in her footsteps this year by joining the National Guard after he graduates from Zimmerman High School.

The biggest lesson she’s learned so far in the Army is that God can use anyone.  “I’m a tiny, girly-girl,” she laughs, “so it just proves to me the scripture that says God uses the weak things of the world to confound the strong.”  No matter where she is needed or where she ends up, Anderson plans to continue making use of every moment to make a difference in the world.